“Do small things with great love” is the mantra of Hong Kong-based Quin Thong, the founder of ANA by Karma, who believes that the foundation of doing great things requires consistent small steps with love and care. Here is her story as an accidental social entrepreneur who connected Bhutan’s weavers with the world of opportunities.

On holiday in Bhutan in 2014, Quin had a chance encounter with an illiterate village housewife who was a skilled weaver, and resolved to help her earn some extra income by selling her handwoven works to Quin’s family and friends via social media. Surprised and inspired by the overwhelming response from her networks, what was supposed to be a one-off help soon blossomed into a social enterprise that has trained over 100 underprivileged Bhutanese women to sell over 10,000 pieces of their handwoven work, in under three-and-a-half years. The CEO of ANA by Karma in Bhutan, also a barely literate villager housewife, was promoted from within the pool of weavers; her transformation from Zero to CEO inspired many village women to step forward and make positive changes too.

“Until now, I am constantly inspired by the commitment of the women of ANA to learn. Their spirit and enthusiasm are something that always motivates me to do better for them.”

— Quin Thong
Quin Thong with women weavers in Bhutan

Bhutanese heritage in a global world

Through ANA by Karma, skilled women weavers in Bhutan are utilising their talents to create artisanal handwoven products, and re-interpreting heritage weaving techniques that would appeal to modern consumers. Proceeds from sales are invested back into the community, with the organisation running training and development programmes such as business skills, financial literacy and basic computer skills for women and children. 100% profit is repatriated to the ANA by Karma Trust Fund held in Bhutan and operated independently by the women themselves, as part of the financial literacy development. ANA by Karma has empowered Bhutanese women to achieve financial independence, support their families and communities, and share the heritage and uniqueness of Bhutanese weaving with a global audience.

As one of the winners in the Enterprise Category at the 2017 DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia (SVC Asia), ANA by Karma has achieved greater strides and social impact with the award money of SGD$20,000 and post-competition support. It has enabled them to train a hundred women weavers to date, far surpassing their initial plans. They have also launched their latest product – personalised luggage belts, accompanied by an online app to create a seamless purchase experience for their customers.

“A business is never without its challenges, and we become a stronger business after solving each one.”

— Quin Thong
Quin Thong interacting with industry experts

Challenges and New Opportunities

Before the competition, ANA by Karma faced two key challenges: (1) how to expand their products to new geographical markets, and (2) how to launch new products and improve their supply chain management from production to distribution. Fortunately, participating in SVC Asia opened up new market engagements and networks to support them in their mission. They also received valuable business inputs and suggestions from industry experts whom they met during the competition.

Quin expresses her appreciation for the continuous support from DBS in presenting ANA by Karma with new opportunities, with DBS’s strong footprint in Asia an invaluable help in creating exposure and reaching new avenues.

In early 2018, Quin participated an interactive discussion with Social Enterprise Insights on Facebook Live to encourage aspiring social ventures in Taiwan to participate in SVC Asia. In Hong Kong, DBS supported the organisation by purchasing a large quantity of their handwoven products as media gifts; and in Singapore, DBS provided a booth for them to market and sell ANA by Karma’s handwoven scarves at ARTBOX, the largest pop-up creative market event.

Quin highly encourages budding social ventures to apply for SVC Asia, as the application process compels social entrepreneurs to ‘put real thought into the business’ and clearly define and communicate their business plan.

“Joining the competition has given us a solid reason to reach back out to the people around us who have supported us the most and strengthened our ties with them. Even getting into the semi-finals will immediately push your market exposure to a higher level. Of course, if you are lucky enough to get into the finals, you have a chance to fly to Singapore, and they will give you training and you’ll meet great people. Just by being in the Finals, you are winners already!”

— Quin Thong

So, what’s next for ANA by Karma?

Quin and her team aim to further develop their products and business, and are currently working with a leading global management consulting firm to develop a ten-year strategic plan to leapfrog ahead. They are excited to scale up their social business, train new women weavers and transform the lives of more communities in Bhutan.